Saturday , August 24 2019
Home / National News / Building certifiers leave a trail of chaos

Building certifiers leave a trail of chaos

Lyall Dix outside his Vaucluse home.

Lyall Dix outside his Vaucluse home.Credit:SMH

Private certification was introduced in NSW in 1998 and means a developer can pay a certifier of their choice to inspect construction work at critical stages and ensure it meets legal requirements.

Repeat offending has soared even though then planning minister Brad Hazzard reportedly ordered the board in 2012 to get “tougher with those small number of certifiers who play games” and “seem to be popping up regularly”. The board has handed out stiffer financial penalties since then but the number of certifiers having their accreditation cancelled has only jumped since February, two months after cracking forced the evacuation of the Opal Tower.

South Coast certifier Glenn Fitzgibbon was rebuked 29 times in 11 years before his accreditation was cancelled in June. The breaches included the bowling alley hazard, a light industrial site “not suitable for occupation”, certifying building work in breach of conditions on his licence and a house that contained “substantial” defects.

Lyall Dix, who enjoys Sydney Harbour views from his Vaucluse home, received the largest ever fine of $50,000 in 2012 for signing off on an Allawah unit block with fire safety issues and an extra apartment, lift shaft and car park. It was less than half the maximum $110,000 fine the board can impose.

A year earlier, Mr Dix was temporarily suspended for allowing occupation of a Mascot building deemed a “hazard” to the health and safety of occupants and where toilet pans, hand basins and bathroom taps had not been installed.

He has been reprimanded, cautioned or fined over 14 other properties, including Drayton’s winery at Pokolbin, where he failed to forward copies of critical stage inspections to the council.

Mr Dix and Mr Fitzgibbon did not reply to Herald requests for comment.

The board issued a $5000 fine for construction on contaminated land at Alexandria and a $3000 fine to a certifier who put misleading information in a statutory declaration.

The Owners’ Corporation Network, the peak body for apartment owners, said the repeat offending was further evidence of “deep systemic problems” in the industry.

“It is symptomatic of a government that has forgotten how to regulate,” chairman Phil Gall said.

The Building Professionals Board was overseen by the planning minister until 2016, when it became the responsibility of the minister for better regulation. “Three years later we still have serious problems,” Mr Gall said. “How did the ministers involved not know this reform wasn’t working?”

The state government announced a new plan on December 30 last year to complement the newly passed Building and Development Certifiers Act 2018. It includes harsher penalties for certifiers who are corrupt or who negligently sign off on a building that is unsafe or structurally unsound. The draft plan will be the subject of public consultation in coming months.

A building in the Mosman retail area was signed off even though it was not fit for occupation.

A building in the Mosman retail area was signed off even though it was not fit for occupation. Credit:Nick Moir

Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson did not directly answer the Herald’s questions about serial offending by certifiers and instances where hazardous buildings were deemed fit for occupation. But he stressed the industry was undergoing major reform to ‘‘improve the transparency, accountability and quality”.

“With the appointment of David Chandler OAM, as the first ever NSW Building Commissioner, we are now moving into the next phase of the reform process,” Mr Anderson said.

The Association of Accredited Certifiers (AAC) represents building certifiers across NSW. Chief executive Jill Brookfield agreed the Building Professionals Board needed to “urgently improve its auditing and investigation processes to ensure anyone doing the wrong thing is found and tossed out”.

Loading

The board has an audit program to provide an independent check of the work of accredited certifiers. However, documents sought under freedom of information by the Association of Accredited Certifiers show no audits were performed by the Building Professionals Board in either 2015-16 or 2016-17. Last financial year 13 audits were begun.

While certifiers carry out inspections, they are not responsible for supervising work throughout construction and are entitled to rely on documentation from other building professionals.

“It is critical that every practitioner takes responsibility and accountability for the work or services they provide,” Ms Brookfield said. “AAC is calling for the accreditation of all persons involved in the design and construction process … which was the original intention of the legislation, however never enacted by government.”

Sixteen certifiers have had their accreditation cancelled since 2005, with a third of those actions taken since February. The longest period an accreditation has been cancelled is five years.

One certifier, Peter Boyce, has been allowed to continue to practise by the Civil and Administrative Tribunal while he challenges the cancellation of his accreditation. The tribunal took into account the effect on his employees and clients in its decision.

The Building Professionals’ Board said Mr Boyce should not be able to continue working on his firm’s 2199 active files because the case against him ‘‘was strong and it involved issues of public safety’’. Mr Boyce did not respond to a request for comment.

Do you know more? Email carrie.fellner@smh.com.au

Most Viewed in National

Loading

About admin

Check Also

High Hopes

Normal text sizeLarger text sizeVery large text size Barry Lambert’s cannabis company Ecofibre is launched …